BELLE PLAINE, Minn. (AP) — The Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple is suing a Minnesota city for withdrawing permission for a satanic monument two years ago, when local government officials got tangled in a debate over religious symbols in public places.
Satanic Temple co-founder Malcolm Jarry told the Star Tribune Saturday that people have a right to protest their proposed monument .
"But the result of the protest shouldn't be depriving others of their civil rights," he said.
The predicament the city of Belle Plaine finds itself in began in 2017 when officials decided to allow a steel silhouette of a soldier praying over a grave marked with a cross at a veterans' memorial park. The Satanic Temple wanted its own monument in the park in an area the city designated as a "public forum" after complaints that the soldiers' monument violated the separation of church and state. Officials shut down the public forum area altogether when complaints followed over the proposed satanic monument.
"I knew this was going to be a problem," Belle Plaine Councilman Paul Chard said, referring to the city's initial acceptance of the soldier's monument. "The pot got stirred pretty quick."
The monument proposed by the Satanic Temple, based in Salem, Massachusetts, is a 23-inch (584-millimeter) black cube inscribed with inverted pentagrams. It would be topped with an upturned helmet.
At the time, it would've been the first satanic monument on public property in the U.S. The Belle Plaine City Council initially granted the permit for it, but withdrew it and ordered the removal of the soldier's monument when the public forum was shut down.
"As you well know, you can't decide to suppress speech just because hecklers didn't like it," said Bruce Fein, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer representing the temple.
Since the protests in Belle Plaine, the Satanic Temple went on to place a statue of a goat-headed creature at the Arkansas State Capitol as a way to call for the removal of a Ten Commandments monument there.
The Satanic Temple has 18 chapters nationwide. The organization says it advocates for a stricter separation of church and state and that it doesn't believe in supernatural beings, including Satan.